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How To Behave In Dubai: National Customs, Courtesies, Norms and No-Nos

Updated on October 20, 2011

How to behave in Dubai? It is fairly easy to follow the behavioral norms in Dubai. They are basically the same as in most places, except that there are a few no-nos that you should avoid doing if you want to stay within the boundaries of good manners.

In fact, you shouldn't ask yourself the question, how to behave in Dubai, as this puts unnecessary emphasis on the ill-conceived notion that you have to adopt unusual behavioral patterns, or comply with customs and norms you are otherwise not used to. This is simply not the case.

Dubai is by now so used to the presence of foreign visitors that you won’t be blamed much for your accidental rude behavior - if you, at least, make the effort to avoid such behavior. Add to this the fact that you will meet very few local Emiratis in the normal course of the day.

How to Behave in Dubai

Don't stress yourself. Dubai is one of those places in the world where things tend to get done at their own pace. Much like in the Mediterranean if you try to hurry things along, the only person you are likely to upset is yourself. Keep this in mind as a good rule of thumb in general – aggressiveness and rudeness are not tolerated from tourists in Dubai.

Avoid shouting, swearing or making offensive hand gestures in public, to the locals, or really anytime - basically, if your mom would be ashamed of your behavior, the Dubai police are unlikely to take too kindly to it either.

Woman shopping in Dubai
Woman shopping in Dubai

Don't take too much interest in the locals, especially women. This includes not pointing your camera at random people in national dress, as this is considered an invasion of privacy. You are likely to see local women in the malls, although never in bars and rarely in restaurants.

Also avoid pointing your finger at people. The hands are often used to gesticulate while speaking, but pointing your finger directly at people is a major don't. Another thing, when sitting among locals, which is quite rare, avoid pointing the soles of your feet towards them.

Before entering the house of a local, you should remove your shoes. Do accept any hospitality offered, which often comes in the form of coffee and dates. Not accepting may cause offense.

Dubai man in national dress
Dubai man in national dress

More Customs, Courtesies and Norms in Dubai

If introduced to a local Emirati man, shaking hands with him is acceptable. If he is with a local woman (most probably his wife or a family member), you are not likely to be introduced to her, and even if you are, don't try to offer her your hand or, - even worse, - attempt the continental-style kiss on both cheeks.

People in Dubai normally socialize in single-sex groups, hence you may see groups of local men sitting on their own in bars, restaurants or cafés. Even weddings are segregated.

Another important point - if in doubt, do not mention Israel; such incredibly emotive topics are best avoided entirely.

What cannot be stressed enough is that public displays of affection are not acceptable anywhere in Dubai. If you are feeling amorous on the street, in bars, in clubs or in taxis, you are well advised to keep it to yourself.

The only exception from under this rule is men holding hands or with their arms around each other, which are most frequently seen among workers from the Indian subcontinent. This is a brotherly sign of affection that is perfectly normal and acceptable.

A Quick Recap of Dubai Don'ts and No-Nos

To recap the most important points with regard to customs, courtesies, norms and no-nos in Dubai, here are the things you should keep in mind.

  • Don't hurry things, don't be rude or aggressive.
  • Don't be loud, don't swear and avoid using offensive hand gestures.
  • Don't be too interested in locals, especially women.
  • Don't stare at the national dress, and don't record everyone on cam.
  • Don't point your fingers at or the soles of your feet towards anybody.
  • Don't keep your shoes on when entering a local home.
  • Don't refuse the hospitality of locals.
  • Don't initiate unsolicited interaction with people's wives or female family members.
  • Don't display your affections in public.


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    • profile image

      Janice 3 years ago

      It was such a pleasure being a part of this wedndig! I love the images you captured of the rhinestones I so carefully placed on her shoulder and arm it was a lot of work! You did an amazing job they're such a fun, quirky couple and you can see it in the pictures!

    • profile image

      Suma 6 years ago

      Really good see the strictness of Dubai, but personally i don't think it's so strict as they can go for sex with with anyone there breaking up with their family. . Dubai is beautiful to see but its not strict.

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Thanks Ardie! I actually have an awesome friend from Kuwait, and despite everything they say about Arabic countries, it's not all that strict for women any more. She's pretty much free to do what she wants, is treated equal to a man, and although marriages are arranged by parents, she can totally decide whether she wants it or not. One thing to keep in mind, though, it's religion more than anything else that sets the norms of daily life.

      Nadia, if you see this, correct me if I'm wrong. ;)

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 6 years ago from Neverland

      Wow, I never realized how strict other countries can be with their women! I was raised so liberally that I'd do best to stay home :) This is an amazingly beautiful hub.

    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 6 years ago from Winnipeg

      Really good hub, its important to know local do's and don'ts when you travel. Thanks for sharing! Dubai looks like an amazing place to visit, nicely illustrated...Voted Up and Awesome!

    • Drjacki profile image

      Drjacki 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Great Hub...thank you so much. You draw attention to cultural differences of which we all need to be aware when traveling in the Middle East.

    • tracykarl99 profile image

      Tracy 7 years ago from San Francisco

      A very informative and interesting hub. Some of these tips could be used to help people in the States with their manners! Nicely done! Beautiful pics, too:)

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 7 years ago from Wales

      A very well presented and interesting hub.

      take care


    • jennysbus profile image

      Jenny 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I recently holidayed in malaysia and there were a lot of saudi couples holidaying there too. They were holding hands in public and the women were taking there burqas off and on as they pleased and the girls wore makeup too.

      I haven't personally been to dubai but it sounds like times are changing with there strict cultural traditions.